Welcome to Podca.st, the original frequently asked questions (FAQ) list on podcasting, frozen in time since October 2004. The FAQ was aimed at non-technical people who want to know what all the podcasting fuss is about. Maintained by Michael Mahemoff.

Update 2012 - Only 8 years after creating this site (!), I've actually begun building the site I envisioned here, a place to discover and play podcasts. Check out Player FM and let me know if you have any suggestions (michael@mahemoff.com)!

Update 2009 - I have ideas for this site, but don't hold your breath. I am still a mad passionate consumer of podcasts, if not a producer in recent times, and want to continue promoting the concept.

Podca.st - Podcasting/IPodder FAQ

What's a "Podcast"?

Simple Answer: A Podcast is like a radio show published by anyone on the net. It could be a real radio show, some random person airing their views, or a band showcasing their wares. Using software like IPodder - and more recently Apple ITunes, you can get your PC to keep pulling new podcasts down whenever they come out. Worth noting there's some ambiguity here: "podcast" can refer to the show in general or a particular episode. ("TV show" is ambiguous in the same way.) The show in general is also called a "podcast feed", while a particular episode may be called a "podcast file" or simply an "MP3".

Why 'POD'cast?

The name comes from everyone's favourite white box of goodness, the Apple IPod. Actually, podcasts are usually just standard audio files in MP3 format. You can play them on your PC, or on any other player. I guess naming it after the IPod made sense when, by 2004, 'IPod' had become almost synonymous with 'MP3', at least in the mainstream. The real reason for the name, though, is historical."

So you're really sure about this: I don't need an IPod to listen to "podcasts?"

Podcasts piggy-back off RSS Feeds. A site's RSS Feed is an announcement of everything that's new on the site. When a blogger adds a new entry, for instance, the RSS feed will update to note the entry. RSS 2.0 features a concept called enclosures - basically like email attachments. A podcast is stored as an enclosure, which happens to be an audio file, usually MP3 format. The client software - such as ipodder - periodically checks the RSS feed. If there are any new Podcast enclosures, they are sucked down to the client PC, and shoved into ITunes or wherever the client is configured to put them.

Ancient History: How Did It All Began?

A podcasting timeline:

What Podcasts are Available?

Initially, most podcasts were blog-like - people talking about their views, responding to events, talking about other blogs and podcasts. Podcasts are one of several technologies that are allowing grassroots content generation - individuals talking to each other. That said, big media has seen the light too. So, we had Paris Hilton podcasting to promote a movie and radio producers like the BBC getting on board with large chunks of on-air content being made available as podcasts. Companies and governments have also seen the benefits. The General Motors Fastlane blog has a corresponding podcast. Meanwhile, a certain Governor Schwarzenneger is reporting on the state of California in a weekly podcast."

Where Can I Find a List of Podcasts

Unlike traditional radio, a podcast can be released whenever its publisher feels like it. Think of it more as a press conference, where the content producer gets to choose the timing. This can happen because you're not listening live - your podcasting software is periodically checking for updates. This is actually a big plus, because it encourages people to publish only when they have something worthwhile. Saying that, some podcasts do have a fairly fixed frequency. Adam Curry's podcast, "The Daily Source Code", is daily (well, almost). Some shows take the view that a fixed schedule will encourage loyalty by helping people to make it part of their daily or weekly routine. Most shows, though, have gone the way of the blog: some bursts of activity, some average times, and some downtime periods brought on by a combination of holidays, exams, and general distraction.

So I'm Not Listening Live?

No it's delayed by a few hours, depending on how often your software checks for changes, how long it takes to download, and how much time goes by until you decide to listen to it. If you know anything about products like TiVo, you'll appreciate the benefits of not having to listen to a program at a fixed time.The concept is called "time-shifted media" and it's set to revolutionise radio and TV. Traditionally, shows have been broadcast on a "view by appointment" or "listen by appointment" basis. If you're not in front of the telly at 7:30 on a Sunday night, no Simpsons for you. Video recorders helped a bit, but you still had to set the recorder to start at the "appointment time". With time-shifted media, you just say "I want to record the Simpsons whenever it's on" and the device continues to monitor what's on and kindly sucks each Simpsons episode down for you. Same goes for podcasting ... you just tell your podcast software to say "I want to download any Adam Curry podcasts whenever a new one appears" and it will keep checking for any new ones.

Why do people podcast

Pretty much the same reasons people blog or do anything else on the net. These reasons vary widely, but it's usually one or more of the following:

  • To make money. The most direct way of making money is to include advertising or sponsor callouts in the program. However, many people have been, and will continue, to be disappointed to learn that the revenue isn't great, and the annoyance is likely to reduce listenership. Still, it's a viable model for popular podcasts. There are less direct ways of making money too. Some people use it to generate publicity, leading to consulting opportunities as people learn that the podcaster has a genuine talent in a particular area - is audio medium often feels more authentic than the written medium. Some people use their podcast to sell something - movie and TV producers can offer a podcast providing behind-the-scenes discussions of their content, book authors can explain aspects of the material, universities can podcast lectures, conference organisers can podcast announcements and proceedings. Other podcasters are content to receive free products from manufacturers keen to connect with the community.
  • To express themselves. Podcasting gives people the rare opportunity to sit alone in a room and talk about their favourite topic, without feeling like something's gone a little bit wrong :-).
  • To get feedback. By becoming part of a conversation, many podcasters will receive feedback from listeners about their thoughts.
  • To talk to famous people. At least for the pioneers of podcasting, there has been a great opportunity to contact famous people and record a chat with them.
  • To practice public speaking.

    "So what are some popular podcasts?" => array(

    So what are some popular podcasts?

    Well, this totally depends on what you're into. But if you just want to try something, a few popular podcasts are shown below. These are not website links, but direct links to the feed - you can cut and paste them into ipodder or itunes to subscribe.Technical topics:

  • The Daily Source Code Podcast pioneer Adam Curry's own daily show. With so much podcast activity going on, you can guess what most of the show's about. As a former MTV presenter, Adam's got a great audio style and a lot of personality. In many ways, this show sets the pace for the podcasting community.
  • IT Conversations Interviews and discussions on technology and business. The interesting thing here is that the show existed before podcasting, with shows available through the IT Conversations website.As with the web and blogging, most of the early content is technology based, but shows on other topics are emerging:
  • Reel Reviews Movie reviews.
  • Atomic City Health and Fitness The first health and fitness show, which might be popular among the ipod-first fitness crowd.
  • The $250 Million Radio Show Music showcase featuring independent artists. "modified" => "200604070255", "modifier" => "Guest"),

    What are vidcasts?

    Vidcasting - also "Videocasting" and "Vodcasting" ("VOD" as in "Video On Demand") - is like podcasting, but with video content. In other words, it's like subscribing to a TV channel instead of a radio channel. The most popular vidcast is RocketBoom, a daily video around five minutes long, covering topics of interest to "the digerati" (i.e. geeks). A "screencast" is a video of a computer interaction - you watch someone's screen and watch the mouse moving around, the display changing, and so on. Typically, it's used to teach users about a new product or to support a critique of the product. There's often an audio component as well, with the recorded user explaining what's happening. Unlike podcasts and vidcasts, screencasts tend to be standalone items - you don't normally "subscribe" to a screencast feed, you just visit the screencast like you'd visit a regular web page. Having said that, there //are// feeds that provide regular screencasts. From a technical perspective, they're really the same thing as a vidcast; the content just happens to be screencasts rather than regular video. "modified" => "200604070255", "modifier" => "Guest"),

    The Future is Bright?

    Already, people are making big predictions.

  • 2008 will be the Podcast Election - candidates may blog today, but in 2008, they will compensate for limited media access by issuing daily audio commentaries. Radio stations will tap into these in the same way as the media now follow press releases online.
  • Niche radio programs currently limited to particular cities will use podcasting to reach worldwide audiences.
  • With the right server-side systems in place, people will be able to create podcasts straight from their smartphones, in much the same way as mobloggers can blog from their phones and PDAs today.

    I have a comment/suggestion about this site.

    Great, I'd be pleased to hear any comments and suggestions. Please mail them to me. Thanks.

    Great, I'm Feeling Enlightened. Now what's this podca.st site?

    A would-be site about podcasts by Michael Mahemoff. I like music on my ipod, but I like speech more. For the past year, I have accessed podcast-like functionality using Replay Radio, a program which records radio feeds, but Podcast will be a step up as it allows for much more content, on all sorts of topics you'll never hear on the radio. (I've never heard a radio DJ spend 30 minutes chatting about messaging patterns for enterprise Java, have you?) Since starting this FAQ, I've also begun podcasting myself, on software development with embarrasingly low frequency: You can see my blog and podcast at Software As She's Developed.